I am very excited that I will be participating in a panel discussion at the Hillyer Art Center in Washington DC this Saturday after a screening of the film Who Does She Think She Is? This event was organized by my friend and fellow artist, Kate Kretz, in conjunction with her exhibition Purge/Deluge at the Hillyer, which runs through April 30th. If you are in the area, it is a must to see her exquisite hair embroideries and paintings.
Who Does She Think She Is?
Date: Saturday, March 20th
Time: 2 PM
Location: 9 Hillyer Court NW, Washington DC
Who Does She Think She Is? documents the conflict of being an artist and a mother, and the dual responsibilities and sacrifices that come with balancing the two roles.
Ironically, my mom-bligations have prevented me from seeing this film at any of the local showings over the past year, so I am looking forward to finally being able to view it for myself.
I am sure that I will identify with the movie: I have spent the past 9 years contemplating, musing, and clarifying my own feelings of balancing my life as both a mother and an artist, and I have some highly resolved opinions of my own.
To tell the truth, it has been very positive experiencing the two ventures of mother and artist, but I believe this as much as anything has to do with the support from my family and local community of artists, because I do not have to fight with anyone about the relevance or validity of what I do from day to day. From a family standpoint, my husband has been in the profession of marketing music for years and he is more than aware of the time and dedication that artists have had to commit to their calling, often having to suffer relative obscurity for a very long time before they have success, if any comes at all, so his support has been unwavering. And, my local community is filled with creative types who are not working full time and stay home to raise children or run a household and pursue their interests, so there is an underlying community acceptance to the homemaker with an industrious side vocation.
Not that there is ample time and freedom for creativity as a stay at home mom. I have a lot to do as a mother of my children - on a daily basis I cook, feed, bathe, transport, monitor, negotiate, discipline, council, and plead for the finishing of homework.
One question that people always ask when they see my drawings is "how do you find the time?" I am quite convinced that it is not the amount of time, but the consistency of schedule that gets my drawings finished. If I work an hour a day, that is equivalent to 7 hours at the end of the week, 28 hours at the end of the month, and so forth. It is easy to find an hour a day (turn off the television, for one) and I am able to rummage up about 2 to 4 hours on most days of the week. The average drawing takes me 120 hours to complete, at a few hours a day, and my fuzzy math skills, that is about two months. My drawings are finished through drop-by-drop persistence. And, as long as I get my one-hour-a-day in the studio to keep my serotonin/norepinephrine levels in check, I am pretty happy and can do anything for the other 23 hours of the day.
I also work in an advantageous medium, too - there is a certain ease in slipping into the studio and working on one square inch of paper and then slipping out again. I could see that abstract expressionists, who no doubt require longer lengths of time to fall into the emotional and mental space needed to interact with their work, would have trouble with my "hour a day" approach.
And, thanks to my feminist period in college which compelled me to read Virginia Woolf, I learned early-on that it is imperative, imperative, that all artists (not just women) establish a room of their own to create. And "room" can simply be a defined space - for a couple of years when my husband and I lived in a tiny apartment, I worked in a 4 foot x 4 foot nook off the kitchen that had just enough floor space to fit my upright 6 x 4 foot drawing board, a box of pencils and erasers, a sharpener, and my stereo. Having a physically defined space in which to work and a place to leave out supplies has thwarted my tendencies toward procrastination for years: the hurdle of "getting stuff out" each time one has the impulse to create is a brutally resistant step on the path of creativity. Now that we have a larger home, the room of my own has evolved into a 12 x 12 foot studio with large sunny windows, a storage closet, and a lockable door to keep out curious little hands.
So, with all of these protective routines and habits in place to help sustain my life as an artist, there is really no excuse for motherhood to keep me out of the studio. Oh, I could mention the fact that I was an only child and that I am wired with a slightly selfish streak that enables me to draw as I please, only compounded by the fact that I spent so much of my childhood in my own head. But, I don't think so - I think routine is everything insofar as motivating an artist to create.
The great sacrifice, I suppose, is that I quit teaching for my art, not that I was bringing in any significant salary has an adjunct. Quitting my teaching has been fabulous, actually, because I am free of the tedious and time consuming part of the job (grading, preparation, tracking down the idlers who seem to forget that they do have to attend class for credit) and although I enjoyed the actual classroom teaching aspect of being an adjunct, I do not miss the frustration of losing so much of my time to busywork.
I did not have to do a whole lot of soul searching before quitting my teaching career. In the back of my mind were words of wisdom from an exceptional art teacher of 25 years (who happened to be my mentor for student teaching). While she was flipping through a portfolio of intaglio prints that she had created decades earlier while completing her MFA, she remarked "artist, mother, teacher - pick two, but you cannot do all three." Her own work was beautiful, but it placed third behind the teaching and the raising of her children, so eventually her printmaking ceased. She had genuine regret in her voice, but it was mixed with a resolute feeling that made me think that she felt she had made the right choice. I am quite sure that it was at the moment when she uttered those words that I prioritized my top two choices and that has been in the back of my mind for years: I will not do all three.
The most compelling aspect of the mother/artist experience has been the impact that childbirth and raising children has had on my artwork. The physical act of birthing children is such a life-changing event in itself: unremarkable in its universality, utterly mind-blowing in the complexity of the seamlessly integrated processes involved, from the genetic (sperm + egg = zygote) to the structural (woah, a baby and placenta are actually growing inside me!), to the raw power of birth itself. Sorry to you c-section ladies, but vaginal childbirth is simply wild and primal. Of course, being the only mother who happened to be birthing "spontaneous" twins (biological, not IVF) on that certain March day in the hospital, I had the pleasure of 3 nurses, 2 doctors, 3 residents (with their adviser), and 1 husband in attendance while I was up in stirrups pushing out two babies. After such a display, any sense of modesty is permanently askew.
From the intensity of childbirth to the responsibility of raising three little individuals, the impact of motherhood on my artwork was inevitable. I find that having children has changed my view of the world: from the reemergence of my own inexplicable childhood fears by observing them in my own children, to the sheer joy at revisiting the worlds of such fascinating little critters such as caterpillars and ducks. And there is a whole new unexpected array and depth of emotions - protection, security, and advocacy - that come into play, too; emotions that underlie a lot of my current drawings and would have been utterly inaccessible to me were I not a mother.
Perhaps the most peculiar transformation is that I have ceased to see my own art as my "baby". The art is a thing that I am driven to do. The art is a filter for apprehension, love, and anger and has become more journal-like as the years have progressed. The art is simply pencil on paper and I move on. It is not some holy sacred thing because, really, anyone can make an object, anyone. The extreme monetary value and mystique that revolves around a select few individuals in contemporary art, driving auctions and creating art stars is truly amusing to me: oh, sure, I see technical skill and execution, I see slick concepts, and I see lofty and ambitious transformations of space. But I am rarely moved in a powerful way, not like the act of childbirth - that was god-like, transcendent, and divine; but likewise an earthy experience that was only compounded with the intense emotions that have come with parenthood. Motherhood has moored me to some great chain of humanity unlike any other event in my life.
So, the last thought is whether the emotions and experiences of motherhood are an acceptable art commodity in the disproportionately male-dominated realm of galleries and museums. My answer to that is a resolute no. Do I care? Not really. Is motherhood truly living for me? Definitely.
Graphite, gouache, 23K gold leaf, and blood on Arches paper
46 x 26 inches